Two days after giving this speech Australia’s greatest provocateur, cartoonist Bill Leak, died suddenly of an alleged heart attack. With freedom of speech in Australia already under savage attack, his passing is a great loss for the country. Sometimes called racist, even homophobic, he was none of these things. He was exactly where he should be, on the splinter lines of a fracturing country. A superb artist, magnificent draftsman and an indefatigable eye for all that is going so badly wrong in the Great Southern Land, he will be greatly missed.
This is his final speech: Ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s International Women’s Day, so first I must apologise for not being a woman. It’s particularly regrettable that I’m not a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab promoting a book about what it’s like being a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab. If I was, this wouldn’t be the only event I’ve got lined up on my non-government-funded whirlwind Trigger Warning awareness-raising tour.
When I met the great cartoonist Bill Mitchell about 34 years ago, he said, “Mate, a cartoonist only has to be funny once a day, but it’s a lot harder than you’d think.” He was right, but he had no idea how much harder it would be for me than it ever was for him.
For a start, for Mitchell to come up with a cartoon, all he had to do was take a serious political issue, exaggerate it to the point of ridiculousness, then draw what he saw when he got there. But I can’t do that because the ideas our politicians come up with these days are utterly ridiculous to begin with. And if you’re starting at the point of absurdity, where do you go from there? I mean, what am I going to have to come up with to make teachers in the Safe Schools program look ridiculous when they actually start giving jobs to gimps? And how long do you think it will be then before some gimps’ rights campaigner accuses me of gimpophobia? It’s only a matter of time.
Another reason the job’s so much harder now than it was for Mitchell is because, unlike him, I can’t just breezily assume people are looking at my cartoons hoping to get a laugh. Ever since conceptual art supplanted transcendent art, all art has been reduced to the level of graffiti. And to people reared on postmodernism and cultural relativism who can’t tell the difference between Picasso and Banksy, I’m not a cartoonist drawing cartoons for a newspaper; I’m an artist exhibiting his work in a gallery that gets hundreds of thousands of visitors through the doors every day. And the work of a man like that has to be taken very seriously indeed. It has to be analysed. It has to be deconstructed. It has to be decoded by these people in a search for hidden meanings. And because art, like political activism, is a form of therapy, it’s supposed to reinforce and confirm their prejudices, not challenge them.
Well, bugger that. Political correctness is a poison that attacks the sense of humour. Luckily for Mitchell, it was tipped into our water supply at around the time he retired and, since then, it’s infected an awful lot of people. As the senses of humour of people suffering from PC atrophy, their sensitivity to criticism becomes more and more acute until they get to the stage where everything offends them and they lose the ability to laugh.
For people with chronic PC, feeling offended is about as good as it gets. A good cartoon gives them an excuse to parade their feelings of moral superiority in 140 characters or less, scrawled on the toilet door of social media where every other humourless halfwit who’s seen the cartoon and felt offended too can join in.
Well, I don’t twit, and I don’t face, so most of the time I’m blissfully unaware of all the howls of outrage and indignation directed at me in response to my cartoons — but not always. Two years ago I realised that sometimes I really do have to worry about whether people think my cartoons are funny when I discovered that bloodthirsty barbarians aren’t immune to political correctness and their delicate sensibilities are just as easily offended as those of any precious little snowflake you’ll find in a gender studies faculty at a university. And for your average Islamist terrorist, firing off a few impassioned obscenities on a Twitter feed is no substitute for the sort of satisfaction you can get by hunting down the person who’s offended you and chopping his head off.